Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away today at age 87. Ginsburg was a vociferous advocate for gender equality and will go down in history as one of the highest court’s most iconic justices. Her death is yet another dark moment in what has been an awful year. There will be plenty of pieces written about her monumental legacy and indelible impact on American politics in the coming days (much more than I could ever write), and I recommend people read them. But I wanted to quickly get my thoughts out about how Ginsburg’s death impacts the immediate future.
Having recently released a list of possible nominees, Donald Trump will most definitely try to force through another justice before his term ends, if not before Election Day. Despite arguing four years ago that a president in an election year should not be allowed to nominate a justice to the Supreme Court, most Republicans will gleefully go along with Trump. Mitch McConnell has said he has no intent of holding Trump to the same ridiculous standard to which he held Barack Obama, vowing to hold a vote on a replacement.
None of this surprises me. The election year bullshit that McConnell pulled with Antonin Scalia was always a partisan ploy to capture a Supreme Court seat, not a genuine attempt to give voters a say in who serves on the court. It was always a sham, and McConnell got away with it; his 2016 gamble has clearly paid dividends. Republicans have not respected institutional norms for some time, treating politics as a tribalistic game in which competing factions attempt to cling to power by rigging the rules to favor their supporters and punish their enemies. But the looming showdown over this vacancy will be the starkest and most egregious example of political hypocrisy in recent American history.
If McConnell manages to succeed in getting not one, not two, but three Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court in one presidential term, he’ll have cemented his legacy as one of the most conniving and ruthless political minds of all time. Unfortunately, Democrats have little institutional recourse right now to fight back, so stopping Republicans from filling the vacancy will be difficult without help. If Democrats do manage to take control of the Senate and achieve unified government in November, the party should seriously look into ways to undo the damage Republicans have wrought, from court packing to adding senate seats.
For what it’s worth, both Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have stated that they don’t intend to fill the vacancy before the election. Whether they stay true to their word remains to be seen. And even if they do, two additional Republicans would still need to follow suit (looking at you, Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham), assuming Joe Manchin doesn’t defect like he did for Brett Kavanaugh.
But one thing’s for sure: losing RBG was the last thing we needed as a country. The stakes of this election, which were already sky high, just increased exponentially.